The Independent/Bosch Technology Horizons Award: Our winner discuss how technology can be harnessed to solve the world's problems

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This year young people were given the chance to imagine how modern technology could make the world a better place in the award organised by The Independent, Bosch and the Royal Academy of Engineering. The winners, whose essays are printed on this page, had suggestions to solve global warming by, in one case, placing a small turbine in the plughole of every bath in the UK and, in the other, by making more energy-efficient cars.

This is the second year of the Technology Horizons Award, offering students aged 14 to 24 the chance to grapple with some of the key issues facing the planet. Last year's essay competition was linked to the 200th anniversary of the birth of the great Victorian engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and asked young people for ideas for the next technology revolution.

"Climate change and sustainability have been big in the news over the last year," says David Rowley, head of campaigns at the Royal Academy of Engineering. "We believe it will be engineers and scientists who will overcome these problems. Young people have some pretty strong views on what should be done."

This passion from youngsters ties in with Bosch's commercial interest in innovation.

Prizes ranged from £250 to £1000 and there were awards for the schools with the largest number of entrants. Prizes were handed out at a ceremony earlier this month attended by Michael McCarthy, The Independent's environment editor, and Robert Meier, Bosch's managing director. Details of next year's competition will be announced in the autumn of 2007.

An award-winning group with a bright future

The winners of the Technology Horizons Award competition:

Aged 14-18:

1st: Lloyd Evans, Warriner School, Banbury

2nd: John Featherby, Worth School, West Sussex

Runners-up:

Siobhan Abraham, Guildford High School; Sonali Dutta, Guildford High School; Ethan Fowler, Manchester Grammar School; Martin Huxley, Sir John Talbot's Technology College, Shropshire; Gwyn Llewelyn Roberts, Bodedern School, Anglesey

Aged 19-24:

1st: Alejandro Vicente Grabovetzky, Cambridge University

2nd: Ralph Turner, gap-year student

Runners-up:

Joshua Darbo, Archbishop Tenison's; Nina Fowler, Derby University; Christopher Maidment, Sheffield University; Aneeqa Safia Meedin, Sheffield University; Dylan Mitchell, Bath University

Winning schools:

Ysgol Uwchradd Bodedern School, Anglesey; Guildford High School

Winning essay, ages 14-18: There is energy all about us; it just needs harnessing

By Lloyd Evans

The year is 2007. It is the 21st century and the biggest challenge facing mankind is climate change. It is predicted that by 2080 the climate will have warmed by 4 degrees. This will cause the ice caps to melt, sea levels to rise and low-lying land to flood, effectively destroying our current way of life. Action and answers are needed now! Before it is too late.

However, with a slight change to the way we live, all this could be prevented. There is energy all about us; it just needs harnessing.

When you step out of the bath, the water is drained out through the plug, releasing energy. Imagine a small turbine placed in the plug to harness that kinetic energy. Now imagine the same device in all houses across Britain. How much energy might be saved?

These small pockets are everywhere. Could the heat given off by lamps not be harnessed? Solar panels could also be placed on the roofs of our cars. How much energy might be saved?

Twice this year my fences have been blown over by strong winds. What if there was a small wind turbine on my new, strengthened fence posts? How much energy might be saved?

I have recently returned from a jog during which my iPod ran out of charge, cutting short my Red Hot Chilies. What if a device was attached to my trainers so that the kinetic energy of my running charged my iPod? How much energy might be saved?

In London the average annual rainfall is about 630mm. Most is either absorbed or flows out to sea – but not before it lands on our roofs and is washed into sewers. What if some of it was used for flushing toilets and cleaning cars? What if its gravitational potential energy was harnessed by turbines in the gutter systems? How much energy might be saved?

The average household produces over 1 ton annually of domestic waste. What if this was compressed, dried, then burnt as biofuel? How much energy might be saved?

New technologies, however, will not solve the climate crisis. Only we can change our lifestyles. It will not take major changes but simple things: turning the tap off whilst brushing teeth, or turning the light off when you leave a room.

Winning essay 19-24 age group: 'We could transform our homes into safe mini-power plants'

By Alejandro Grabovetzky

We are living in a fat world. In recent years, "size" in environmental discourse has come in the form of the carbon footprint. As logic tells us, the size of the footprint corresponds to the size of the foot, and the foot to the size of the being resting its weight on the world. And we, as a collective being, are expanding: we consume far beyond our necessity and give little back. With the help of emergent technologies, we must embark on an "energy diet": losing weight, eating less and exercising.

First, we must lose "weight". The weight of our means of transport – cars, buses, trains and planes – means that we spend much more energy moving the vehicle than moving ourselves. Here, the obvious solution is, in fact, a viable one: make things lighter. The most important advance in transportation within the next few years will not be the development of electricity- or hydrogen-based engines, but the production of lighter cars.

Instead of shifting the carbon footprint from the consumer to the energy industry (remember, hydrogen and electricity must come from somewhere!) we must make the actual use of energy more efficient. This way of thinking has resulted in the Hypercar: a modular car with a carbon-fibre body, a tiny engine and a fuel cell. Its modularity means it is easy to maintain; its engine makes it highly efficient (up to 200 miles per gallon); and its carbon-fibre body makes it safer, as it absorbs impact much better than steel. Taking the load off the road will go a considerable way to reducing the size of our collective mass – and the footprint it leaves.

But not all energy is used up in transport. In everyday life, we need to "eat" less energy. While it is crucial to limit energy waste by changing our lifestyle – turning off appliances and heating whenever possible – it is perhaps more important to change the objects of our consumption: making appliances themselves more energy efficient. As our use of electronic equipment continues to increase, we need more than energy-efficient bulbs to make the cut – we need efficient electronics. A benchmark for this has been set by the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. Designed for children in developing countries, the laptop – including processor, memory and screen – consumes just two watts. Since its components are part of an increasing number of electronic appliances, the technology could be applied to televisions, phones, media players and computers, giving consumers both peace of mind and better performance.

But where does "exercise" fit in? We cannot expect to reach environmental sustainability if we don't find ways of making energy without burning carbon fuels. Solar energy, wind power and ground-source heat pumps are becoming increasingly efficient in obtaining energy, but unless we reduce our energy requirements, there will not be enough provision to satisfy our hunger. There is, however, one resource that technology can help us regain. By redirecting the normal flow of energy in physical exercise, we can use our bodies to manually produce electricity – and actually regain energy by burning calories.

For the OLPC project, Potenco has created a pull-string dynamo to power the computer; given its low energy consumption, this is very easy indeed. By extension, rather than going to the gym and using electricity to power an exercise machine, we could use portable generators to transform the energy of our bodies, as we walk or run, into electricity to power an iPod. Additionally, via advances in converting biomass into liquid fuel capable of powering cars (think Back to the Future), we could even transform our homes into safe mini-power plants by decoupling the engines of our Hypercars from their wheels.

Biodegradable rubbish could be used to create electricity for sale back to the grid or storage in a battery for later use – a sustainable model for generating power from unburnt calories. With an incentive to escape our sedentary lifestyles, we could not only reduce the contours of our physical and consumptory bodies (and, of course, their footprints), but radically improve their health.

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